CONCORD -- Blinking away tears of joy and taking a slow, deep breath, Francine Fitzgerald looked up and smiled.
After a month without any communication with her son, Garrett Hand, who had traveled to South America for a biking trip with his girlfriend, Jamie Neal, Fitzgerald had finally heard her son's voice.
He was safe.
Fitzgerald, her daughter Larkin McGowan, and Hand's father, Alan Hand, held a news conference in front of their Concord home Wednesday afternoon to confirm that she had spoken to her son and that he had said he was OK. The phone call followed a frantic few days in which family and friends had embarked on a national media blitz to seek information on Hand and Neal -- who hadn't been heard from in a month while traveling in Peru.
Hope. Relief. Exhaustion. The waves of emotions were hard to describe, Fitzgerald said.
"We now have a lot to process," she said. "And it is going to take some time."
Fitzgerald did not say when Hand, 25, and Neal, 27, would return to the United States, nor did she detail what led them to lose contact with their families over the past month.
Peruvian officials said the pair had been traveling by boat through Peru and had limited ability to communicate by phone and Internet. The couple -- who had no idea of the worry -- will continue their trip, the Peruvian Department for Tourism Security said in a statement Wednesday, and their next stop is Ecuador.
Hand and Neal, who live in Oakland, set out in November for a six-month biking trip through South America and they had been calling family frequently and updating their status on Facebook. The updates stopped Jan. 25, and family members grew increasingly worried when the couple's digital trail went cold as they were on their way to Peru.
Worries about the couple's safety were compounded when the State Department issued a travel warning, noting that criminals may have been planning to kidnap U.S. citizens in the Cusco and Machu Picchu areas. Cusco was the location of Hand and Neal's last Facebook posting.
"He would call every eight or nine days," Fitzgerald said in a previous interview. "They were so happy."
And while American and Peruvian officials said Tuesday that the couple had been spotted about five hours from Iquitos, Peru, in a village called Angoteros, Fitzgerald was skeptical.
In statements Tuesday and early Wednesday, Fitzgerald said she wouldn't be convinced of her son's safety until she heard his voice on the phone.
Now, she's waiting for him to end his trip, so she can give him a big hug as soon as he steps off the plane at San Francisco International Airport.